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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e27969. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027969. Epub 2011 Dec 21.

The glial scar-monocyte interplay: a pivotal resolution phase in spinal cord repair.

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Department of Neurobiology, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


The inflammatory response in the injured spinal cord, an immune privileged site, has been mainly associated with the poor prognosis. However, recent data demonstrated that, in fact, some leukocytes, namely monocytes, are pivotal for repair due to their alternative anti-inflammatory phenotype. Given the pro-inflammatory milieu within the traumatized spinal cord, known to skew monocytes towards a classical phenotype, a pertinent question is how parenchymal-invading monocytes acquire resolving properties essential for healing, under such unfavorable conditions. In light of the spatial association between resolving (interleukin (IL)-10 producing) monocytes and the glial scar matrix chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG), in this study we examined the mutual relationship between these two components. By inhibiting the de novo production of CSPG following spinal cord injury, we demonstrated that this extracellular matrix, mainly known for its ability to inhibit axonal growth, serves as a critical template skewing the entering monocytes towards the resolving phenotype. In vitro cell culture studies demonstrated that this matrix alone is sufficient to induce such monocyte polarization. Reciprocal conditional ablation of the monocyte-derived macrophages concentrated at the lesion margins, using diphtheria toxin, revealed that these cells have scar matrix-resolving properties. Replenishment of monocytic cell populations to the ablated mice demonstrated that this extracellular remodeling ability of the infiltrating monocytes requires their expression of the matrix-degrading enzyme, matrix metalloproteinase 13 (MMP-13), a property that was found here to be crucial for functional recovery. Altogether, this study demonstrates that the glial scar-matrix, a known obstacle to regeneration, is a critical component skewing the encountering monocytes towards a resolving phenotype. In an apparent feedback loop, monocytes were found to regulate scar resolution. This cross-regulation between the glial scar and monocytes primes the resolution of this interim phase of spinal cord repair, thereby providing a fundamental platform for the dynamic healing response.

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